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CONSPIRACIES

Reviewed by  Laura MacDonald


Nick Delios: Conspiracies was originally developed and self-published by a superb creative team, Anima-PpD. Since that early release, it has been picked up and published by GotGames for the North American market. There do seem to be a few significant changes in this new edition. For those unfamiliar with the basic storyline, here's a brief look.

The setting for Conspiracies is the future, not too distant in any real timeline, but certainly a future we would hope to avoid. Nation states have given way to a new world order. There are now six city-states, somewhat independent, but ultimately subject to the overriding authority of the Supreme Federal Government. Forget the 'Star Trek' rosy-eyed view of a unified world. The earth is in a sad way. Rampant population growth has depleted much of the earth's resources and caused global pollution, poverty, disease, and a host of other ills. The gulf between the haves and the have-nots has deepened. Corporate and criminal organizations are the true powers behind the scenes, and the line between the two groups is distinctly blurred. Pandemic corruption is in fact the rule of the day. The world populace in turn suffers from varied degrees of mental despair, and the market is hot for mind-soothing pharmaceuticals.

In case all this sounds too depressing, it really is more of the general setting for the game. The characters that you encounter in Conspiracies have adapted to the realities of their world, and manage to hang in there fairly well. Nick, the player's alter ego, is one of those who just never gives in and never surrenders.

There is a natural comparison between the Tex Murphy games and Conspiracies. The graphics in Conspiracies have that same grainy look as the older Tex games, particularly in close-up views. The cut scenes are well done, but production values are on the lower end for this game. However it didn't affect my enjoyment, and really wasn't much of a consideration in the end. The graphics were good enough, and it was the rest of Conspiracies that truly delighted. There are also some obvious parallels between Tex and Nick Delios, who is another down-on-his-luck detective. But beyond the surface similarities, I thought that Nick was quite a different character. For one thing, Nick is an edgier guy. I didn't see him as warm-hearted as Tex. In fact, Nick is a bit more self-interested, with more chips on his shoulders than he ever wins at the gambling tables. But Nick is, at his core, a good guy all the same. In the end, I thought the comparisons were there, but that ultimately Conspiracies stands on its own as a unique story and game. Let's see why.

Out of the frying pan and into the fire

Nick is the proverbial down-at-his-heels private eye. He is the kind of guy who thinks that even though the big guys have all the odds, he has the perfect angle that'll beat the house. Naturally we first meet our hero at a gambling establishment. He has lady luck on his side and a gold-digging brunette snuggled up even closer. Then with the one inevitable roll of the dice too many, fate turns. He loses it all. And the girl? Well she slinks away, seeking better pastures. If he wasn't already pathetic enough, Nick then tries to wheedle a drink from the casino bartender and is given the bums rush. Well maybe tomorrow will be another day. As Nick staggers to his feet and tries to brush the street grime from his clothes, he is suddenly hustled into a speeder. Next, he finds himself across the table from an old pal, Dimitris. Yep, Dimitris Argyriou. The guy who cost Nick his career, forced the love of Nick's life to wed another, and wrecked his whole life. Why? Just to build a financial empire. And if all that wasn't enough, now he needs a favor from Nick. Nick would love to shove the request and a good deal more right in the guy's face. But surprise surprise, the jerk holds all the muscle, some badly needed cash, and worse... all of Nick's markers. So what else can Nick do? Yep, say hi to Nick's newest client.

The storyline in Conspiracies is one of its better features. Obviously, given the game title, we know that some mysterious group is up to something. And that something probably bodes poorly for the world. But who is this group and what are their plans? Conspiracies is deeper and more complex than many other games. It includes more than a passing nod to the future, alien contact, time travel, and all the hypothesized nagging after effects. And in addition to the larger story, there are a few little side quests whose aim is to advance the game and the story. As for the big picture, there are not one but three clients: Dimitris, his sister Annita, and Nick's old pal Thanos. I also saw Nick as his own client in many ways. The three events start out as distinct puzzles, but are deftly woven into a larger conspiracy. I replayed parts of the game for the purpose of this review and was hard pressed to find any plot threads left undone. The developers supplied enough twists and turns to keep the player guessing for much of the game. Some of the answers surprised me, and there were some very inspired moments that resulted in a very clever story. As to whether Nick ever 'saves the world' and all that jazz, I'll leave that a mystery for you to solve on your own.

Too many clients

I really enjoyed the range of characters in this game. The range of characters is a big plus factor for Conspiracies. The voice talent was on the spotty side. Some were well done and some others were pretty campy in their delivery. But the game has that tongue-in-cheek quality to it anyway, so it seemed appropriate for the feel of the game. Despite the uneven voice-overs, the parts were all acted well. By which I mean that their facial expressions and movements were very well done. As for the characters themselves, our boy Nick runs into a host of them. There's his close friend, Inspector Detective Thanos Pekas. Nick has known Pekas for years. Thanos in turn throws Nick a case here and there. Not enough to keep Nick's water turned on, but at least enough to keep him off the streets. Then there is Nick's lost love, Annita Argyriou. They were engaged to be married and Nick has never loved another. And don't forget the gentleman we met in scene one, her brother and corporate tyrant, Dimitris Argyriou. There are assorted crooks, more than a few suspects, assorted women who have a needless crush on Nick (but help him out all the same), a scientist plucked from the past, and a number of other figures. There is an almost endless supply of interesting side characters in this game. So for those who enjoy a lot of interaction, Conspiracies will thrill your gaming heart.

Wake up and smell the coffee

As with anything else in life, some things just go better with a little puzzlement. There was a nice variety to the challenges in the game. They range from the traditional inventory-based conundrums to stand alone puzzles. And yes, there is a maze Virginia, but thankfully the clues obtained along this trek are not as essential to future gaming as they appear. There is a critical location at the heart of the maze that must be found, but it really isn't necessary to travel all of its nooks and crannies. This was one very pleasant aspect of the game. There were some alternate ways to beat some puzzles in the game. I don't want to 'spoil' the game for anyone. Lets just say that if you are using a walkthrough for reference, and the puzzle is a stand alone lock or other such device... give it a go. Even if you think you missed some key bit of info earlier on, you might just see another way to solve it.

There are also many dialogue-based challenges. You must talk to the right person about the right things to trigger game events and advancement. There are also a few action-type puzzles where you have to take one correct step, or move without delay, to avoid a 'game over' moment. There is one level of improvement made in the new edition. There are a few moments in the game where speed seems to be of the essence. In one, you have some robot guard dogs that need to be 'terminated'. In the original version of the game, it seemed that this was a matter of timing. In the version I played, not so. There was a margin of safety where you could stop and stand without peril. I experimented a bit with this particular puzzle, as I had heard it was a hard one in the game. You can do what needs to be done all from just out of their reach. In another area you have, ala Tex 'Overseer', patrolling drones. Again, there are safety spots where if you are back from their path, they leave you undisturbed. The only remaining truly timed puzzle involves 'running' to a specific area of the environment. This will be slightly problematic, partially due to the mechanics of keyboard directed running, but primarily because I found that where you needed to travel to avoid certain death was counter-intuitive.

This leads me to 'game over' moments. I had a positive reaction to this aspect of Conspiracies. But gamers need to take note. They are in this game, and so if you avoid any games with such moments, you might want to skip Conspiracies. As for me, I can't think of any that weren't anticipated. I always had an idea of when I should save in the game. This is definitely a game where the old advice of 'save and save often' applies. If I was going to enter a place for the first time and wasn't absolutely sure what I would find there, I saved. If I was going to attempt a risky entry or a rescue, I saved. I am one of those gamers who enjoy an occasional well-crafted death scene. So I would save and then just blunder on in to see what was in store. For most of the game that was all there was to it. However I did encounter one event where, even though I had figured out rather easily where I needed to go, the game wouldn't allow me to go. In this one case I had to make sure that I looked at my inventory items, and glanced around the area one last time, before I entered a room. It's a minor quibble, but worth noting. The game was a bit finicky about recognizing that you had certain items in your inventory. In many cases, if you just picked an item up, it didn't seem to register that you had that item unless you 'examined' it while it was in your inventory.

Interface

This is a tale that is set in the future, and as such we have a number of gadgets to work with. This is where 'Tex lovers' will see a number of familiar objects. Speeders, vid-phones, and a host of electronic gadgets are here. There is of course a fax, although this one is remarkably quiet. We even have time travel, but that's a plot device only. Our phone vid-card is an essential item, and be forewarned to never leave home without it. It actually functions as an 'all tools' device. It gives you access to your laptop and other info centers that you will run across. You travel about through the use of a handy map feature. You will learn to love this feature, as you will do a lot of traveling in this game. Conspiracies has a slew of unique places and environments that you will explore as you play the game. Which is another great aspect of the game.

Conspiracies is a keyboard and mouse controlled game. The arrow keys move your character around. The mouse serves as your interface with your environment and objects. I would urge you to tarry while in the opening scene. The inventory space is limited in Conspiracies: no bottomless trousers in Nick's wardrobe. So it's a good idea to get used to the controls and their limits. Right clicking the mouse will at the least get a wry comment from Nick on a good many objects. If exploration is half your enjoyment, then liberal use of this feature will add to your fun. It is a smart cursor in the sense that it will change when something can be interacted with. Make note of items that appear interesting, but unusable. They may be red herrings, or may be important much further down the road. Due to the limits of the inventory space, I found that it was useful to pick up everything I could and then make trips back to my apartment. To get rid of an object, you simply stand in one spot and click your mouse on the floor while holding the item. I carefully placed stuff all over the back floor space of Nick's living room for later retrieval. Due to the grainy graphic quality of small items, it is wise to not lay items on top of one another. I also made sure that I left space in my inventory before I visited a new area, so that I could acquire new items.

I will give a 'thumbs up' to one significant improvement in the GotGames version of this game. In the original game, the save feature required significant hard drive space. I think I have seen figures of as much as 1.5 GB. In the new version, saves take up little space and so must have been reconfigured. I have little technical smarts, so much about game mechanics is a mystery to me. Let's just say that you now need just a bit over the initial 1.5 GB to install and play the game. The saves folder adds little to that original amount. So save away and don't worry about the space requirements. I had over 40 saves in the game, and so was I ever happy to see this modification.

Bottom Line

Conspiracies was a surprising game. In many ways, your first impression of the game is not the best. The opening cinematic is extremely good. But right after Nick makes a deal with the devil, you find yourself in a dingy apartment. The graphic levels are more in keeping with older games and so don't immediately impress you. It took me a little while to get used to the wide range of possible interactions, and also to realize that there was a limit to what my inventory would hold. The inventory limits and the huge number of red herring items in the game were a drawback to me. The few action events and the hybrid keyboard interface could also be a negative for some players. And as I mentioned before, some of the voice talent was Camp City, but for the most part it worked for me in this game. What surprised me (after that tepid first moment) was how fast the game took off storywise, and how quickly it drew me in. By the time I was in the third scene, I was reluctant to stop playing. And by the time I was maybe midway through the game, I had to tear myself away. I mean, I had to get some sleep! I have to give tons of credit to the lead character and the storyline for this. Also the wealth of interactions, game environments, and scenarios were equally impressive. Then there is the question of gameplay and length. I am telling you now, this is one long, involved game. In the end, Nick and Conspiracies made a believer out of me. I cared whether he solved the mystery, rooted for him to get his girl, and wanted the bad guys to pay big time! Even better, it was all delivered in a nice, neat, satisfying package.

So turn off the TV, load up Conspiracies, and settle in for some serious sleuthing with Nick Delios. Oh, and bring along your lucky quarter, cause Nick could sure use a little more luck on his side.

 2003  Laura MacDonald


Full View Screenshot

Visit Anima's Website to learn more about the story, view additional screenshots and download the demo (trailer).

Developed (2003) by Anima Ppd/Interactive and published in North America by Got Game Entertainment.

Minimum System Requirements:  Windows

Where To Buy This Game:

Walkthroughs or Hints:

"Bert Jamin's Walkthrough" available here!


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